Monday, July 8th, 2019
Captain’s Log – The Welland Canal
One of our Facebook followers asked a few weeks ago when we were talking about the ports we’ll visit this summer in the Great Lakes, what we do about getting around Niagara Falls. Going up or downriver there is certainly not an option. As one of the Wonders of the World, Niagara Falls is an impressive sight, but definitely not navigable. Here’s the easy answer: the Welland Canal.
Running from Port Weller on Lake Ontario to Port Colborne on Lake Erie, the Welland Canal runs parallel to the Niagara River, to the west. It’s made up of a series of eight locks that lift ships by a total of 9.1 metres between the two lakes. The Welland Canal makes ship traffic between the two lakes possible, and indeed between the Atlantic Ocean and the inner reaches of the Great Lakes.
On Tuesday, July 2nd, Picton Castle passed through the Welland Canal going upbound. But the Welland Canal adventure began for us the night before. On the evening of Monday, July 1st, Canada Day, after finishing with public deck tours at the Redpath Toronto Waterfront Festival, the crew got right to work making the ship ready. To go through the locks, we need to make the ship skinnier than she usually is. Everything needs to be inboard of the width of the hull, nothing can stick out beyond or else it risks getting scraped up the cement walls of the lock chambers. The crew brought the boats onto the hatch, cockbilled the course yards (meaning to brace them as sharply as possible while horizontal, then drop one end and raise the other to get the yard further in), braced the rest of the yards up as sharp as possible, and swung the davits in parallel with the hull.
With preparations done, it was time to get some sleep before casting off from Toronto at 0400 on Tuesday morning. The plan was to make our way across Lake Ontario under motor to arrive in Port Weller for 0800 and start our transit up the Welland Canal from there. Traffic in the Welland Canal was busy and there seemed to be a shortage of line handlers so we had a bit of a wait before we could start our climb up. By mid-day, we had the approval to go ahead.
Entering each lock chamber felt a bit surreal for the crew. One of them showed me a photo he had sent home to his family showing his view of the Welland Canal – the photos just showed a cement wall. At each lock, Picton Castle motored slowly and carefully into the chamber, with cement walls about 30 metres high on each side and a big steel door ahead. Kind of like motoring into a cave with no roof. From there, we got a bow line and a stern line up to the top of the lock and secured ashore. The steel door behind us closed to seal the lock chamber, making it like a bathtub, then when it was all secure, the lock began to fill with water, raising Picton Castle.
As a spectator, it’s almost eerie to see the ship rise and reveal herself. At the lowest water level, those on land could only see the t’gallant and royal yards. As the water filled the lock chambers, more of the ship was slowly revealed – tops’l and course yards, then the top of the engine exhaust stack, the charthouse, then the quarterdeck and the foc’sle head, then finally the main deck and the hull.
We were expecting the transit of the Welland Canal to take us about 12 hours, and that was a good estimate. After a long and interesting day with all hands standing by, we finished late at night and went to anchor just off Port Colborne. This is the last time we’ll need to go through locks on this voyage until we come back to the Welland Canal in late August on our way downbound.